Your Federal Grant Proposals Should Not Be Clichés

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    Because words are so important in federal grant proposals, your proposal narrative should avoid clichés – words/phrases that have been worn out and have lost their meaning and effectiveness … especially the latter.

    Clichés distract reviewers from the core of your proposal. They also waste the reviewer’s time, which can be very frustrating. Eliminating clichés, therefore, will help make your prose more persuasive, effective, and easier to read.

    These are just a few of my “favorite” clichés:

    Best of breed
    If you are not selling puppies, why claim that you solution is the “best of breed?” The phrase comes from the world of show dogs.

    Sports announcers frequently use the word “utilize.” That is a compelling reason to drop it.

    Managers who are “well-seasoned” probably have been consuming too much pepper and nutmeg.

    Hit the ground running
    Are you training for the Olympics or trying to get a grant?

    Leverage, World Class, Uniquely Qualified
    This is how you write an hour before the deadline. Quite simply, these words are meaningless.

    Such words and phrases, which could be multiplied forever, are examples of wordiness, a lack of precision, and the inability to discuss topics of substance. Studiously avoid imprecise language that makes you appear unfocused and inept.

    Clichés are the kinds of words that organizations frequently use to cover up problems, difficulties, or a lack of qualifications. That alone is a good reason to avoid them.

    Choose Effective Wording

    – some simple rules to help you avoid mind-numbing clichés in your grant proposal prose:

    • Focus on what’s most important to your reviewers, and avoid unnecessary or overly long set-ups.
    • Be as specific as possible while avoiding pompous words and phrases.
    • Eliminate redundant words.
    • Use the correct word in context.

    Here are two examples of how you can turn your clichés into good prose. Clichés are in bold.

    Before: The Jones building is the shining jewel in our downtown.
    After: The Jones building is an outstanding example of early nineteenth-century classical style architecture in downtown Centerville.

    Before: The J. D. Smith Center is widely admired as a fiscally responsible family planning organization.
    After: The J. D. Smith Center received a #1 rating from Charity Navigator for “outstanding financial management” for the fourth year in a row.

    If you use clichés, reviewers may conclude that you are not likely to communicate clearly and effectively on your proposed project because you cannot communicate clearly in your proposal. Avoid clichés, and your proposal will be more persuasive.


    Dr. Jayme Sokolow, founder and president of The Development Source, Inc.,
    helps nonprofit organizations develop successful proposals to government agencies. Contact Jayme Sokolow.


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